Saturday, May 31, 2008

The New Yorker June 2 2008

from Paul Goldberger's article "Out of the Blocks" on Beijing's Olympic Green:

As in Paris--where the Louvre lines up with the Tuileries, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Elysees--Beijing's most symbolically important structures have fallen along the main axis. In the center is the former imperial residence of the Forbidden City. North of this is the Jingshan, a park surrounding an artificial hill where the last Ming Emperor is said to have hanged himself, and, beyond that, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower, which for centuries helped Beijing's inhabitants tell the time. In 1958, when the Communists expanded Tiananmen Square, at the southern gate of the Forbidden City, they placed the Monument to the People's Heroes on the same axis, in the center of the square. Mao Zedong's mausoleum, also in the square, is on the axis, too. And now, spread over twenty-eight hundred acres at the opposite end of the axis, is Beijing's Olympic Green. If the Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear--a testatment to the global ambitions of the world's fastest growing major economy.

At least two of the buildings on the Olumpic Green--the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects--are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both. These buildings, some of the most advanced in the world, are made possible partly by the presence of huge numbers of low-paid migrant workers. When I visited the stadium with Linxi Dong, the architect who heads Herzog and de Meuron's Beijing office, he told me that the construction crew for his project numbered nine thousand at its peak.

National Stadium (night shot)

National Stadium (lobby)

National Aquatics Center

Reading Boland's "The Liffey beyond Islandbridge"

from 23 Poems

A river runs through these two adolescent poems. In “Liffeytown,” a delicate lyric, each of the three stanzas ends with the haunting refrain:

O swan by swan my heart goes down
Through Dublin town, through Dublin town.

In “The Liffey beyond Islandbridge,” the river runs past town into a pastoral scene, with grass in place of iron, with swans preening, white abandoned sea birds, a cat among daffodils, an old man under a tree, all enveloped in “the shaken warmth of early March.” The speaker knows that even further down the river, beyond the river bend,

Are spaces teemed with cities which must
Strike a destiny

but prefers, for time’s being, to flow with the river’s “aimless miles.”

If the sense of literary destiny is strong, so, too, is the sense of the literary tradition. The word “wanders,” which appears in both poems, invokes both Wordsworth of the daffodils, and Yeats of the swans. Yeats’s influence also appears in the diction of ghostly enchantment in the first poem. Though the cat-like poet steps “cautiously” among the daffodils, in the same poem she confidently turns “A tattered coat upon a stick” into “An old man contemplates his shoe.” Though the swan-like poet pays tribute to a mighty predecessor, she also demarcates her own territory: not Coole Park, but Dublin town; not bright lakes, but “the darkening/ Of the river.”

Joining in the conversation of the ages, the poems add fresh observations. They heed their own imperative “Look well.” The river “Clings” to the ovals of the bridge. The old man sees “the water fretted by a cygnet’s thrust.” And beyond Islandbridge, “The river flattens to the land.”


Reading “The Liffey beyond Islandbridge”

The swans, one black, one white,
steer in the man-made lake
the children’s eyes to them,
and hoist the children’s hands.

When the bread is pitched
with childish force and aim,
and the great birds bend their heads
to peck at a crumb,

the children know they’ve won
a prize. They can make swans
come to them. They can break
the waters. They can even fly.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Poem in Podium

One part of "The Body" series has just been published in Podium, the online journal of 92nd Street Y. Nose, meet the world.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reading Eavan Boland

I am reading her New Collected Poems for PFFA's NaPoReMo.

Front flap:
An Origin Like Water: Poems 1967-187 (1996) confirmed Eavan Boland's place at the forefront of contemporary poetry. New Collected Poems brings the record of her achievement up to date, adding material from her subsequent volumes and filling out key poems from the early years. Following the chronology of publication, the reader experiences the exhilarating sense of development, now incremental, now momentous. Boland's work traces a measured process of emancipation from conventions and stereotypes, writing in a space she has cleared not by violent rejection but by dialogue, critical engagement, and patient experimentation with form, theme, and language.

Back flap:
Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's formost poets, was born in Dublin and educated in London, New York, and Dublin. Her books of poetry include Against Love Poetry, The Lost Land, An Origin Like Water, and Outside History. Boland is also the author of Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Times. She is the coeditor of two Norton anthologies: The Making of a Poem (with Mark Strand) and The Making of a Sonnet (with Edward Hirsch). Her awards include a Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry and an American Ireland Fund Literary Award. She has taught at Trinity College, University College, and Bowdoin College; was a member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa; and is now the Bella Mabury and Eloise Manbury Knapp Professor in Humanities, the Melvin and Bill Lane Professor in English, and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University.

1. from 23 Poems (1962)
2. New Territory (1967)
3. from 'Femininity and Freedom' (1971)
4. The War Horse (1975)
5. In Her Own Image (1980)
6. Night Feed (1982)
7. The Journey (1987)
8. Outside History (1990)
9. In a Time of Violence (1994)
10. The Lost Land (1996)
11. Against Love Poetry (2001)

Author's Note:
All the poems from nine volumes of poetry have been collected here. Nothing has been left out. Edits and exclusions from the Selected Poems have been reversed. The two volumes that the Collected Poems of 1995 did not include--The Lost Land and Against Love Poetry--have been added. In addition, I have retrieved two poems from 23 Poems, a chapbook which came out in 1962 when I was eighteen. I have also added a brief section from an unpublished verse play, part of which appeared in the Irish Press in 1971 under the title 'Femininity and Freedom'.

Reading the Author's Note

So you re-edit the edits, and include
the ex-exclusions. You call it "reversed."
When the day, and its black letters, are reviewed,
you conclude nothing's better than the first.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chloe Miller @ Porta Del Sol

A friend, Chloe Yelena Miller, has just become the editor of Porta Del Sol. The web version offers reviews of online publications, and interviews with their editors. It even "grades' the publications using a five "suns" scale. Do get in touch with Chloe if you want your e-journal reviewed, or if you are after reviewing or interviewing work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Than More Like

You love me more than I love you.
That's why I feel so bad.
But if I love you more than you
love me, I would feel sad.

Between my guilt and misery
I'd rather be the first,
and learn to see much more of me,
more like what you observed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New Yorker May 12 2008

from Alex Ross's article "Song of the Earth" on composer John Luther Adams:

"My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place," Adams said of his installation. I have a vivid memory of flying out of Alaska early one morning on my way to Oberlin, where I ataught for a couple of fall semesters. It was aglorious early-fall day. Winter was coming in. I love winter, and I didn't want to go. As we crested the central peaks of the Alaska Range, I looked down at Mt. Hayes, and all at once I was overcome by the intense love that I have for this place--an almost erotic feeling about those mountains. Over the next fifteen minutes, I found myself furiously sketching, and when I came up for air I realized, There is is. I knew that I wanted to hear the unheard, that i wanted to somehow transpose the music that is just beyong the reach of our ears into audible vibrations. I knew that it had to be its own space. And I knew that it had to be real--that I couldn't fake this, that nothing could be recorded. it had to have the ring of truth."

[JL: "Vibrations" here reminds me of Eliot's "[The great poet] should perceive
vibrations beyond the range of ordinary men, and be able to make men see and
hear more at each end than they could ever see without his help."]


from Peter Schjeldahl's article "Many-Colored Glass" on Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke:

The Grossmunster was built as a Catholic church on the site of a fancy miracle: in the year 286, St. Felix, St. Regula, and St, Exuperantius, decapitated for clinging to their faith, picked up their heads and clibed to the top of a hill, where they dug graves and buried themselves. Charlemagne is supposed to have selected the spot for the church when his horse bowed down there.


Literary and archeological evidence dates the use of colored glass in churches to the early centuries of the Christian era. The first surviving whole examples are from the end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth, in Germany and France. The innovation of buttressed architecture enabled large windows by freeing walls from having to hold up their buildings' weight. The major theorist and first great patron of the development, Abbot Suger of St. Denis (1081-1151), promulgated a Neoplatonic doctrine: lux continua--the unbroken light. He distinguished among lux (daylight, which falls alike "on the evil and the good," according to Matthew), lumen(the consecrated light that has entered sanctuaries), and illumination (of the soul, realizing a condition described in Ephesians: "Now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light"). "Onward from the material to the immaterial," Suger wrote. He justified the medium's sensuaous allure as a foretaste of the New Jerusalem, which will be bejewelled, as he foresaw it, citing Revelations, with "jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysophase, jacinth, amethyst."


The loss of Suger's theological passion trivialized stained glass: the flat and lapidary mosaic forms, with painted inflections, of medieval windows gave way to artisanal imitations of perspectival and realistic painting, becoming an essentially reproductive craft. (A similar reduction befell the formerly semi-independent art of tapestry, betraying its formal propriety with tricked-out illusions of deep space.) The unitary power of Gothic stained glass, in which figures and their surroundings share the picture plane, equalizing the impacts of side-by-side colors, has haunted glass-makers, and eluded emulation, ever since.

[JL: What is said here about tapestry was what I felt about the Met exhibition.]


from Paul Goldberger's article "The Heatherwick Effect" on British designer Thomas Heatherwick:

Even before he went to art school, Heatherwick found the standard design categories confining; he didn't understand why designing buildings and designing tables should require different sensibilities. "I was just interested in the making of things," he said to me. This attitude explains why on his Web site Heatherwick organizes his work not by type, the way most designers do, but simply in three groups: small, medium, and large.


At one point he said to me, "I got interested in buildings because they were the largest objects around, and I couldn't beleive how sterile they were. if you look at an earring compared to a building, the complexity of form is all in the earring."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

TLS May 2008

from Andrew Porter's review of Harrison Birtwistle's "The Minotaur" at the Covent Garden:

The Minotaur, offspring of Pasiphae's surrender to penetration by a bull that may have been Poseidon himself--Euripides' "mingled form where two strange shapes combined, and different natures, man and bull, were joined"--is the protagonist of Birtwistle's new opera for Covent Garden.

Over a decade ago, Friedrich Durrenmatt's widow gave him an unrealized ballet scenario by her husband: the Minotaur, brooding in a labyrinth of mirrors, finally runs to embrace, but is killed by, a mirror-image of himself who proves to be Theseus in minotaur-disguise. (Half-brothers they were, if Poseidon indeed sired both; Ariadne and the Minoatur are half-sister-and-brother.) Murders and monsters have been recureent in Birtwistle's work; so have ritual repetitions; and so have labyrinths: intricate, extended sound structures, such as the Exody composed for the Chicago Symphony (1998), threaded, the composer tells us, by a musical line. Durrenmatt's scenario was but a starting point. Three scenes of the new opera are set in a Carmen-evoking bullring at the heart of the labyrinth, wherein an excited chorus . . . watch the Minotaur goring an Athenian maiden, then the other Athenian victimes, and then being slaughtered by Theseus. Harpy goddesses of doom and death swoop down from above, screaming, to pluck out and devour the victims' hearts.


from Paul Griffiths' review of Hugh Wood's Staking Out the Territory, and of Edward Venn's The Music of Hugh Wood:

For Wood, and for Venn, thematic development and cross-reference guarantee the terms of a moral contract between composer and listener. "The listener's conscious experience of the form structure", Wood affirms, "remains the first requirement of abstract instrumental music (correction: all music)."


. . . he writes of his fondness for the paintings of William Scott . . . "As I look at these rough, magic not-quite circles, I long to bring just that quality somehow to my own work: to use a thicker brush, to make a bolder gesture, to play off rough against smooth, to leave rough edges and drips of paint".


from Ian Bostridge's review of Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century:

Thirty-eight years after Strauss's American apotheosis (and some years after his shameful but complex accommodation with the Nazi regime in Germany, masterfully unpicked by Ross), in the midst of the Great Patriotic War, the score of Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad", was flown into that besieged city by Soviet military aircraft. Musicians were recalled from more straightforwardly martial duties on the front line to perform it. German commanders planning to disrupt the performance found themselves pre-empted by "Operation squall", a Soviet diversionary manoeuvre. The symphony was relayed over loudspeakers' into no man's land. As Ross puts in, "never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony became a tactical strike against German morale".

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

"The Importance of Being Earnest," as performed by the Pearl Theater Company last night, was hugely entertaining. One reason for its success was that the production did not try to update Wilde (he was, I was convinced last night, of his time, and so offered a period, and a period of, satisfaction), or radicalize him, or analyze him, and so the play remained funny throughout its three acts.

The other reason was the strong ensemble acting, with the exception of Lady Bracknell played by Carol Schultz. Ali Ahn, as Cecily, delivered many of her lines with delicious timing, but also mashed many of her words in her rush to get them out. Rachel Botchan was Gwendolen with a spine, both in her character, and in her well trained, upper class carriage. Bradford Cover was convincing as the straight man, Jack. But the evening belonged to Sean McNall who played Algernon. As the Times review noted, he made the famous epigrams fresh, spoke them as if they were minted for the first time, in the spontaneity of situation. The theater website congratulated this resident actor for winning a 2008 Obie for Sustained Excellence in Performance. I would love to see him again, in a different role.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Rob Mackenzie at Poetry-Free-For-All is inaugurating June as National Poetry Reading Month, and inviting everyone to join in. His instructions:

Well, NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) gets more and more popular every year and it’s been a great idea. However, without readers, poems can’t do what they’re supposed to do i.e. be read.

1. Buy a new book, preferably before June, by a contemporary poet whose work you are not particularly familiar with. An anthology is also acceptable. You must buy the book. Poetry publishers need your money, especially the smaller ones.

2. Read the whole collection by the end of the month at least once. I know some people will laugh at this, as they will read several collections every month. But for others, this will be a new experience.

3. Each day, write a paragraph on a poem from the book. There’s no minimum or maximum length of paragraph. It could be a short sentence. But explain how you react to the poem and quote your favourite line (or a line to show why you didn’t like it).

If there’s enough interest, we’ll create a forum for the purpose. You’ll have your own thread in which you’ll write your paragraph each day. Fluff and encouraging noises are allowed on other people’s threads. If there are only a few participants, we’ll do it in some other way, but I hope plenty of people will take part.

This is giving me a push to read Eavan Boland's New Collected. I heard her read once, at the National Arts Club, but am not familiar with her work. Good time to get to know the woman, methink. Watch out, come June, for spilling of guts all over her poems.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The New Yorker April 21, 2008

Rushdie's novel Midnight's Chidren has a mysterious chapter titled "In the Sundarbans." The New Yorker article on that mangrove forest helped me make sense of the chapter's connection with Tiger, tides, kraits and widows.

From Caroline Alexander's "Tigerland":

At the mouth of the Ganges Delta, the Sundarbans encompasses the largest single mangrove ecosystem in the world, of which roughly forty per cent lies in India and sixty per cent in Bangladesh. . . . To the southeast lies the tiger reserve, whose swamp forest and intricate waterways are the improbable domain of the uniquely aquatic Royal Bengal tiger.


The boat arrived at the long jetty of the Saznekhali Wildlife Sanctuary. . . . The river was at very low tide, and a compound loomed above the river and fifteen feet of exposed mud banks like a fort bristling with defences, Stoutly staked at the high-tide mark, a quadruple row of bamboo pylons formed a palisade, patrolled by a tropp of rhesus monkeys. Inside the compound stood a shrine to Banbibi, the divine protectress of the forest, and to Dakshin Roi, the tiger god. . . .

The dashing Dakshin Roi, depicted as a mustachioed, gun-carrying, horse-riding, sporting gentleman, is Tiger incarnate. He is deep yellow, with large compelling eyes. Within this nexus of sometimes contradictory associationsm he is, like Vishnu, the Preserver, principally worshipped for his curative powers: "A god can create life and can take it," as a village woman told me with some energy.


According to folk etymology, "Sundarbans" is Bangla for "the forest of beautiful trees," and the mangroves shimmered in the low morning light--literally shimmered, as the leaves of some species are covered with a glossy protective wax, which is secreted, along with excess salt, as one of their strategic adaptations to the saline water.


Netidhopani Camp stood at the southern limit of the buffer zone and on the edge of the reserve's most protected core area. Unusually, the site had historic remains: the ruins of a three-hundred-year-old brick temple, built to commemorate a young widow whose prayers to Shiva were said to have brought her dead husband back to life. The interior was rumored to house a lingam of Shiva; two weeks earlier, it had also housed a tiger, which had borrowed its convenient shade.


It is not known why Sundarbans tigers have a propensity for man-eating, although theories abound: because the salt water makes them irritable, because human bodies floating down from the Ganges have whetted their appetite, and so forth; more plausibly, Sundarbans tigers, in their remote domain, have never learned to fear man.


. . . an arsenal of hopeful and imaginative tiger deterrents: masks with a painted human face worn on the back of the head to trick the tiger, who prefers attacking from behind . . .


To find honey, you followed the bees, climbing a tee and looking up to sight them. The bees must be full; an empty bee wags his tail and flies erratically, a full bee flies in a true bee line.


Throughout the Sundarbans, it is common for wives to live like widows while their husbands are in the forest, forgoing the prerogaives of married women, such as colorful saris and the splash of vermillion in their hair. There are also villages of real "tiger widows," women whose husbands entered the forest and simply never came out.


From Joan Acocella's "Doll Houses":

Early this month, [Basil] Twist revived his 2001 "Petrushka," and it is an astonishment. . . . before "Petrushka" was a ballet it was a puppet show. Stravinksy and Benois based their libretto on the Punch-and-Judy theatricals given during Shrovetide in old St. Petersburg. In the ballet, fairgoers see a marionette show with three characters, all played by human beings: the Moor (glamorous virility), the Ballerina (brainless beauty), and Petrushka (poetic soul, as in Pierrot, the European Petrushka). Backstage, however, the puppets are undergoing a drama of their own. Petrushka loves the Ballerina; the Ballerina fancies the Moor; Petrushka comes between them; the Moor kills him.

The ballet was a hit, and was widely performed throughout the twentieth century, but time has not improved it. Modern Petrushkas tend to be over-piteous, thus banishing the original's Hoffmannesuqe eeriness, its mixture of human sorrow and lacquered artificiality. Enter Basil Twist, who has turned the show back into puppet theatre. . . .

The basic puppetry technique here is Japanese Bunraku. . . . That means that the puppets are mvoed around by people dressed and hooded in black, and therefore, on a black stage, more or less invisible. But in fact the show's nine puppeteers are seldom wholly invisible. Eyebrows notwithstanding, this is not realism.

And not only because we can see the puppeteers. At times, Twist suspends storytelling and just shows us imagery suggested to him by the score. When a light, fugitive theme scampers through the music, a sparkling veil whips across the stage--Petrushka's soul, if I'm not mistaken. When Stravinsky gives us heavy, plodding music for a tamed bear's arrival at the fair, Twist, too, gives us a bear, but not a whole one--just the jaws and the claws (frightfulness, the coming death). Most subtle of all is Twist's hand imagery. Throughout the show, big, fat white hands--they look like Parker House dinner rolls--appear as puppets. This is a sort of joke--puppets in the shape of hands, controlled by puppeteers' hands--and also a serious comment on the heart of the story: manipulation. But the hands also appear, at the beginning, playing instruments: accordion, balalaika, drums. As in life, what is bad is also good.

Discovering Hyam Plutzik

Thanks to Edward Moran, I just discovered Hyam Plutzik. Son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he became an English professor at the University of Rochester, and, though he died in 1962, a poet at large. His words quoted on his homepage immediately resonate with me:

I once looked at poetry as little more than beautiful language. Later it was a way of communicating the nuances of the world. More recently I have begun to look at poetry as the great synthesizer, the humanizer of knowledge.

The three ways of looking are not three different ways, but each rises into the next, as beauty becomes nuance, and nuance becomes synthesis. Or, to see the interrelationship from a different end, synthesis is valuable so long as it depends on nuance, and nuance must rest on an appreciation of beauty. The goal of synthesis echoes that of Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, in which the game is to unify all knowledge. Whereas Hesse's master-language is music, and his chosen form the quest novel, Plutzik's seem to be science, and poetry. His last phrase "the humanizer of knowledge" implies knowledge needs humanizing. I read "knowledge" here as scientific knowledge, which, in some view, is abstract, general, legalistic. Poetry then, in this view, provides the human context, or, more accurately, translates symbols into symbolism.

Plutzik does this brilliantly in his poem "The Equation." The fantastic transformations begin with mathematical variables, and end with nocturnal weeping. The poem argues like a sonnet, but the last two isolated lines equate the sestet to the octave, uneasily.

An Equation

For instance: y –xa + mx2(a2+ 1) = 0
Coil upon coil, the grave serpent holds
Its implacable strict pose, under a light
Like marble. The artist’s damnation, the rat of time,
Cannot gnaw this form, nor event touch it with age.
Before it was, it existed, creating the mind
Which created it, out of itself. It will dissolve
Into itself, though in another language.
Its changes are not in change, nor its times in time.
And the coiled serpent quivering under a light
Crueler than marble, unwinds slowly, altering
Deliberate the great convolutions, a dancer,
A mime on the brilliant stage. The sudden movement,
Swifter than creases of lightening, renews a statue:
There by its skin a snake rears beaten in copper.
It will not acknowledge the incense on your altars,
Nor hear at night in your room the weeping…

The website gives a detailed biography, and a poetry sample. There is also a trailer for a documentary on the poet, directed by Christine Choy ("Who Killed Vincent Chin?"). Interviewed in the film are Hayden Carruth, Stanley Kunitz, Galway Kinnell, and Grace Shulman.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Roundabout Theatre Company

Rufus Norris directed this Christopher Hampton play based on the 1782 French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Given its novelistic origin, the play was unsurprisingly tightly plotted. The dialogue was sharp, though at times it sounded too much like Wilde's English drawing room. Laura Linney played the chilling La Marquise de Merteuil, while Ben Daniels, as Le Vicomte de Valmont, was, perhaps, a too-sympathetic egotist. Jessica Collins was heartbreakingly convincing as La Presidente de Tourvel, whom Valmont seduces and abandons. The ensemble acting was without any weak link, the efficient set just sufficient to suggest luxurious decadence. We sat in the first row of the mezzanine in the American Airlines Theatre, and had an excellent view of the sexual machinations.

The Headhunter's all-purpose five-point scale: ****1/2

Germans in the Woods

Last night, at Cornelia, I met again Tim Rauch, an independent animator. He and his brother just completed their first animated documentary, Germans in the Woods. Based on a WWII veteran's story, the documentary short won 2nd prize at ASIFA-East (Animation Community for NY and the East Coast). It is making the rounds of film fests. In his blog, Tim writes about his current project, The Park Bench.

Will Morris read as the feature at Cornelia last night. I've heard him read three times now, and his poetry, inspired by British Revivalists, postmodernism, and language poetry, is still as entertaining as ever. The incantatory repetitions, the technological imagery, and the social criticism remind me of the other English poet in the NYC poetry circuit, Jane Ormerod. Jane hails from the U of East Anglia writing program. I wonder if Will comes from the same fenlands.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bann at Worldwide Plaza

Two and a half years old, Bann prides itself on its so-called progressive Korean cuisine. Like its website, the restaurant is self-consciously chic, but the smiling and helpful servers soften the edges of the hard trendiness. It does not hurt that the men, Asian and Caucasian, are young and good-looking, a lure for the neighborhood, perhaps, though the clientele was mostly straight and corporate both times I was there.

The slightly hidden entrances leads into a sleek lounge area, watered by a hand crafted copper bar. Further in, the dining area is lit warmly. Yesterday, the evening light floated in through the tall windows. The tables are solid dark wood. The privacy curtains separating the tables are curiously flimsy.

Immaculate Buns gave our server detailed instructions on how he liked his martini. He told us a funny story about his visit to his dermatologist, and thus his name. He liked the place, as The Quarterback had suspected. The winelist, printed on a hand-sewn scroll, is extensive: about five whites and five reds from each wine region of the world. We liked our Italian wine well enough when it came. This morning I cannot remember what it was. It was not the Brunello, which they did not have.

The food was delicious. The meat of the baby pork ribs appetizer slid off the bone. The eel cooked on hot stones embedded in a tray of salt. I had the the beef rib glazed with a sake ginger soy sauce, and accompanied by pumpkin, shitake and Asian broccoli. The Quarterback enjoyed the Bi Bim Bap crisped in a stone pot. The only disappointment was the boring barbecued meat.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Atmosphere: ****
Food: ****1/2
Value: ***
Service: ****1/2

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

God Cock

God Cock, I've gone astray.
For months I ain't got any.
Give me a prick every spring day,
or two, or three, or many.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Marina Tsvetaeva's "Selected Poems"

I'm reading Elaine Feinstein's translation of the poems. Tsvetaeva's voice is intensely lyrical, passionate and bitter. It can be satirical, against the rich and the newspapers readers on the Parisian Metro, but its dominant tones are abasement--towards poets she revered--and recrimination--against unfaithful lovers. So far I prefer the shorter lyrics to the sequences. "As people listen intently" makes me smell my hearing, and and crave my remembering.

As people listening intently
xxx(a river's mouth to its source)
that's how they smell a flower
to the depths, till they lose all sense.

That's how they feel their deepest
xxxcraving in dark air,
as children lying in blue sheets
peer into memory.

And that's how a young boy feels
when his blood begins to change.
xxxWhen people fall in love with love
they fling themselves in the abyss.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Preparing to Teach Poetic Forms

Nine more days before the start of my New York Writers Workshop class, and I have four sign-ups. The class needs six to run, so I'm casting around for ways to make the numbers. I've sent out pest emails, posted on craigslist, blanketed Cornelia Street Cafe with homemade flyers for three Fridays, recruited friends to spread the word, and left a flyer with the neighborhood falafel shop.

Preparing for the first class on sonnets, I remembered Molly Peacock's lovely poem about the shoulders of women, a sonnet as it turned out. I read it first in Raw Heaven, and liked it still more when I read it again in her Cornucopia: New and selected poems.

The Shoulders of Women

The shoulders of women are shallow, narrow,
and thin compared to the shoulders of men,
surprisingly thin, like the young pharaohs
whose shoulders in stick figures are written
on stones, or bony as the short gold wings
of cranes on oriental screens. Lord, how
surprising to embrace the shortened stirrings
of many bones in their sockets above breasts! Now
what I expect, since I’ve long embraced men,
is the flesh of the shoulder and the cave
of the chest and I get neither—we’re so small.
Unwittingly frail and unknowing and brave
like cranes and young kings, the shoulders of women
turn to surprise and surprise me again with all
their gestures of renewal and recall.

A 15-line sonnet, with a turn after the octave, and a concluding couplet. I like to think the additional line makes this a bony sonnet.

The sonnet, in Cornucopia, is a subset of the dominant form. Most of the poems are written in one block, rhyming ababcdcd etc. When I first encountered this, I was excited about a poet's discovery of a flexible personal form in which to communicate a range of experience. But even during that first reading, I felt relieved when Peacock broke out of that mould to write longer and more varied poems. Sometimes the mould just does not fit the experience, and, when the experience is pressed into the mould, it sticks out in awkward enjambment and rhyme.

The problem is not merely one of craft, I think, for Peacock's craft is evident and subtle. The problem seems to lie in the identification of a particular poetic form as one's signature style. After a while, the form feels less like a map and more like a manner. The same feeling came to me when I was reading Kay Ryan's poems in POETRY, a while back. Having enjoyed The Niagara River, especially her deft handling of short line and sly rhymes, I was disappointed when I came upon the same lyric form in the POETRY poems. To individuate oneself by implementing an individual style (here, most concretely, in a poetic form): such an undertaking looks too limiting to me, and speaks too solemnly. It is missing the wit that, for me, characterizes the use of poetic form. Wit acknowledges that, great though poetry is, greater are we and the world.

Peacock and Ryan have distinguished poetic forebears in this drive to individuate one's style, most obviously, Whitman and Dickinson. Whitman was path-breaking, but often I don't want to follow him down the long and winding path of his lists; I get bored. Dickinson stuck to the hymn stanza, and made many great poems, and many not-so-great ones. Her ellipses, dashes and gaps can be read as ways of overcoming the limitations of using the same form: they punch a hole in the wall to look out into eternity; they crack the floorboard holding up the poem; but they also risk the shock of, not electricity, but eccentricity.

When I think of the English poets who use the same poetic form for at least a stretch of their career, the form is not individual, but of an age. Pope and the heroic couplet. Shakespeare and the sonnet. The English poets who migrated to America also did not feel the compulsion to individuate their style by means of a particular poetic form. Auden and Gunn used traditional forms but did not make any one a signature. The signature cannot be in a form--I can forge my own signature by copying it on tracing paper--but in the spirit animating each time I sign off.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Marie Howe's "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time"

You have to read this. Yesterday, in Central Park, I finished reading it in one sitting, pausing now and then, to look up, to see how the world had changed. "Unsparing" was the first word that came to mind. Then, "religious." Not "spiritual" which sounds so wishy-washy to my ears, but "religious." The final, but not the last, word was "love."

The Quarterback is thinking of buying all three of her books for his mother. They would make a beautiful present for Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reading at the 92nd Street Y

Tonight was the reading by students in the spring writing program. I was the last student reader, out of twelve readers. Marie Ponsot, and classmate Kevin Sullivan were there, as well as Wise Woman and The Quarterback. I read five parts from "The Book of the Body," and felt the audience was with me throughout the reading. I was especially moved when Wise Woman looked as if she was about to weep or laugh. Christina Curtis, from Daphne Merkin's Non-Fiction Workshop, read a wonderful piece on her job attending to a salad bar in a West Coast restaurant; the essay served up a woman's method for surviving grief.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Delta Grill in Hell's Kitchen

This Louisiana-inspired restaurant cultivates a festive atmosphere in a southern-styled setting. It reminded me of New Orleans eating. The Quarterback and I shared the fried green tomatoes. The waiter told us beforehand that they only had red tomatoes tonight. When it came, we tucked in and enjoyed the hot, spicy dish. The Quarterback had jamabalaya in a pot. It was very flavorful, and came with andouille sausage and chicken in a crispy batter. My shrimp etouffee was rather bland. The wine list was very ordinary. The Quarterback had an Australian shiraz, and I had an okay German riesling.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * *
Value-- * *
Service-- * * *
Atmosphere-- * * * 1/2

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sunday Brunch at Florent

I liked the self-deprecating self-description on the website of this "New York instutiton," even before visiting the restaurant. Enticingly described as a grease spoon, it has seen the neighborhood, the meatpacking district, posh up its act, but, unperturbed, it continues to serve its eclectic clientele its good diner fare. It is closing soon, however, giving me another reason to visit it before it goes the way of all good things. I had a portabello mushroom and goat cheese wrap. The mushroom came in chunks, and the cheese in a generous helping. The Quarterback had the special sandwich: blackened swordfish. It was rather small, as sandwiches and burgers go in this country, but it was delicious. I tasted the warm chocolate cake too. Its center was liquid chocolate, though that afternoon's version was not liquidy enough. Reservation is advisable because it gets very crowded.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * * *
Value-- * * * *
Service-- * * *
Atmosphere-- * * * 1/2

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Omai: Vietnamese restaurant in Chelsea

The Quarterback brought me to this restaurant for dinner. For appetizer, we had the calamari which was very tender, juicy, and spicer than first taste might suggest. It also tasted strongly of mint. The Quarterback had chicken, vegetable and rice in claypot. The vegetable was bak choy. The food was clear, not overly sauced. My roasted duck tasted nicely of smoke too. The ginger orange sauce was tasty and, thankfully, not overpowering or thick. We had a glass of merlot and a glass of pinot noir. Neither wine was anything special. The meal came up to about $60. Not cheap.

The Headhunter's all-purpose 5-point scale:
Food-- * * * 1/2
Value-- *
Service-- * * *
Atmosphere-- * * * *

Bathers at MOMA

Paul Cézanne. (French, 1839-1906). The Bather. c. 1885.
Oil on canvas, 50 x 38 1/8" (127 x 96.8 cm).
Lillie P. Bliss Collection

Henri Matisse. (French, 1869-1954). Bather. Cavalière, summer 1909.
Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 29 1/8" (92.7 x 74 cm).
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
© 2008 Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso. (Spanish, 1881-1973). Bather. winter 1908-09.

Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 38 1/8" (129.8 x 96.8 cm).

Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest.

© 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Cezanne bather is a statue, the Matisse a bear, the Picasso a dancer.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions

Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1666) inspired many painters I admire: Corot, Cezanne, Matisse. When I looked at his paintings at the Met this afternoon, I found myself hunting for signs of these other men, the most obvious of which was his almost-geometric mountains.

The paradise he painted was often marked by death and pain. The Arcadian Shepherds, otherwise known as Et in Acadia Ego, stumble on a tomb.

Their postures portray dynamically the turning of their bodies towards this unexpected discovery. The green cloak of the river god recalls his watery abode streaming away down the slope, a movement enhanced by the water pouring out of his jar. The figures grow older when seen from left to right, the golden hair of the shepherdess turning into the barren crown of the seated or fallen river god.

In other visions of Arcadia, a snake kills a man; Thisbe discovers Pyramus dead while the lion mauls a horse and his rider in an approaching storm; Eve points out the fruit to Adam. In a marvelous and moving painting, the wife of Phocian (wrongly executed for being a traitor) gathers his ashes in front of the other citizens going about the ordinary activities of the day: archery, swimming, drawing water from a well, leading a horse, lounging on the grass.

Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion

Unlike Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," there is no irony in the depiction of the non-sufferers. The buildings are noble, their dignity enhanced through the verticals of trees and columns, and through the backing of the mountain. The human figures are not grotesque nor satirical, but tiny. One is moved by the majestic beauty of the landscape, and by the intense pathos of human suffering.

Poems of Paul Celan

Just as I feared, the further I read into the volume, selected and translated by Michael Hamburger, the less I like the poems. The lyrical richness of the first two books seems to dry up into obsession repetitions in the third.

My favorite in Mohn und Gedachtnis, or Poppy and Remembrance, (1952) is the heartbreaking "Your hand full of hours."

Your hand full of hours, you came to me--and I said:
Your hair is not brown.
So you lifted it lightly on to the scales of grief; it weighed more than I . . .

On ships they come to you and make it their cargo, then put it on sale in the markets of lust--
You smile at me from the depth, I weep at you from the scale that stays light.
I weep: Your hair is not brown, they offer brine from the sea and you give them curls . . .
You whisper: They're filling the world with me now, in your heart Im a hollow way still!
You say: Lay the leafage of years beside you--it's time you came closer and kissed me!

The leafage of years is brown, your hair is not brown.

From Von Schwelle zu Schwelle, From Threshold to Threshold, (1955), I am particularly moved by "In Front of a Candle," and the simple exactness of "With a Variable Key."

With a variable key
you unlock the house in which
drifts the snow of that left unspoken.
Always what key you choose
depends on the blood that spurts
from your eye or your mouth or your ear.

You vary the key, you vary the word
that is free to drift with the flakes.
What snowball will form around the word
depends on the wind that rebuffs you.